Monthly Archives: September 2015

Highway to Kosovo

Before I left Kukës I visited the Berber to get my hair cut. It set me back 200 leks and hardly helped in getting rid of my Albanian money.

Highway pedestrian crossing Albanian style..

Highway pedestrian crossing Albanian style..

The only practical way of getting to Kosovo was getting back on the highway.  It had the look and feel of a highway, but in all other aspects it was used as a normal road. Dogs lay in the shadow of the guard rail separating the lanes and people walked along it. I saw even cow pats on the shoulder, evidence of a bovine presence not long ago. On the short stretch to the border I also noticed several makeshift crossings [see photo above] so people could visit their fields on the other side of the highway.

Old bridge Prizren

Old bridge Prizren

The border was a bit confusing as there was only one checkpoint where I got a stamp in my passport for Kosovo. Apparently the customs authorities from Albania and Kosovo work together and I was no longer in the Albanian computer system…

From the border to Prizren was only a short ride. In Kosovo the population is predominantly Albanian and I was pleased to practise the three words I have managed to learn so far in the Albanian language. The word Falinmindiret means ‘thank you’, but literally it means: ‘I pray for your honour’, which I think is far more beautiful. Prizren has many mosques and the city has a large Turkish population. Like Montenegro, the currency is the euro, though I have to admit I don’t know how that works. In Montenegro I talked to the girl that worked in the hostel and she explained that the Montenegran government buys euros from the European Central Bank.
With what? I asked.
She had no idea.

My last day in Prizren I joined some other people in the hostel I was staying and we hiked in the mountains south of Prizren. They were nice mountains.

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Albania, fact and fiction

From Podgorica I cycled to Shkodër in Albania. The border was a formality and I was only a bit disappointed not to get a stamp in my passport. You are in the system, the custom officer said waving dismissively at his computer.

The traffic in Shkodër was slightly chaotic, but there were lots of bicycles on the street because the city is flat. In 1995, drivers in  Shkodër refused to pay a new  traffic light tax because, as they argued, the  city had no traffic lights, but only the occasional traffic police. The traffic police is still there and seem overall very ineffective…

Albanian flag on top of Rozafa castle

Albanian flag on top of Rozafa castle

I had a nice day cycling around to the old bridge at Mes, some 8 kilometres out of town and then having  a delicious lunch at the lake, before heading to Razafa castle which was on a steep little hill with nice views over the surrounding coutry side.

Trying to  learn something about Albania, I read that nodding your head means ‘no’ and shaking your head means ‘yes’ in Albania.
Interestingly, when I asked an Albanian, he showed me the shaking of the head and it seemed to be more like the wiggling of the head as they do in India. He also told me that shaking his head means ‘no’. This is all very confusing.

The manager of the hostel told me had an income of 200 euros per month which he thought was very reasonable.

Buying some groceries threw me back to the basics of bartering. On the street I bought some veggies by picking out what I wanted: two tomatoes and a cucumber. The man showed me a coin of 50 leks and so I gave him a coin of a hundred leks. He took two paprikas and after I nodded approval, put them in my bag.

On the road to Kukës

On the road to Kukës

The mountain raod to Puka was, as expected, hard work and even though it was half September, still very hot. In Puka, or ‘Puke’ as it was spelled at the entrance of the town, I had a nice lunch and in the bathroom I washed my hands and face and rinsed my sweat stained shirt. After refilling my water bottles I continued my way.

Fushë-Arrëz was a shambolic roadside town and after asking around, I found the Internacional Hotel which looked grand and its facade reminded me of a Chinese hotel. It cost me 10 euro and it looked great. The smiling manager said there was no need for my passport and so I just gave him 10 euro and that was it. Breakfast was included, good bye. Inpsecting my room I found there was a gaping hole in my towel and when I hung it on a rack, the rack came rattling down the wall. Otherwise it was great.

The road to Kukës was steeper and it seemed even warmer than the day before. Luckily, there were quite a few waterholes with nice cold water on the way which I used to douse my head and rinse my shirt. Riding downhill needed careful navigation as there were a lot of rocks on the road.

Road conditions were overall good.

Just before Kukës I steered my bicycle on the highway as there is no other road. There was a policeman and I asked him if it was alright, but he didn’t speak English and poited in the direction of Kukës, so I put up my helmet for the occasion and crossed the highway to the other side and started the descend to the city. It was glorious.

Kukës turned out to be a nice little city. Very friendly and clean. It lies at the confluence of the White and the Black Drin. According to Wikipedia: the district is impoverished, with poor road connections, and major problems with crime. I didn’t experience anything of the kind.

Mosque in Kukës

Mosque in Kukës

Next post will be from Kosovo.

Montenegro

Just as I was putting up my tent on the first campsite I had found in Montenegro, a dog came inspecting my bags that lay scattered around. Because I don’t  like dogs I made a move to make him go away, but he started barking, so I ran for cover behind my bicycle and grabbed a stone trying to keep the excited animal at bay. The owner showed up and told the dog to go away. Needless to say that the dog had no idea what the owner was going on about, but after some more coercing it trailed off. The dog doesn’t like bicycles, the man explained.

The short ride along Kotor Bay to the eponymous city was beautiful. It was possible to shorten the distance by taking a ferry, but it meant missing out on some excellent scenery and so I decided against it. Kotor itself was very touristy. Many cruise ships visit the harbour and spill their load of tourists into the city without further thinking. The tourists then have to be led around in an orderly way to show them all the ancient buildings before they are left in one of the many souvenir shops.

Most impressive were the ancient fortifications that surround the city in a spectacular way. It is possible to avoid paying the entrance fee by taking a path through  the countryside and enter through a hole in the wall, which is of course what I did. It also avoids backtracking along the same steps.

The 'free' entrance to the fortifications of Kotor

The ‘free’ entrance to the fortifications of Kotor

From Kotor I cycled to Podgorica, via the old road to Cetinje. It was a high pass, but the ascend was very gentle and never getting much steeper than 5%. The cycling was glorious with endless (25 to be more precise) hairpin turns going up. Later I was told that the engineer who had designed the road had strong feelings for Queen Milena and for that reason one can still clearly see the letter ‘M’ on the map.

Kotor to Cetinje on Google Maps

Spot the letter ‘M’ in the Kotor to Cetinje road on Google Maps

Podgorica was one of the weirdest capitals I have seen so far. It has the appearance of a ramshackle village with some highrise buildings thrown in for good measure. It didn’t leave a lasting impression on me.

Next post will be from Albania.

Through Dalmatia

Have I been to Bosnia and Herzegovina? Though I have only cycled 10 kilometres in Bosnia and Herzegovina, I have also slept two nights in that country and had a meaningful conversation with a Bosniak and a less meaningful conversation with the cashier of the supermarket. So I think it counts, but I still find it awkward to say I have travelled in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Geographically, Neum lies in the country Bosnia and Herzegovina, but it is not in Bosnia. It is in Herzegovina. Logically, I have been to Bosnia or Herzegovina, but that’s not a country.

People had warned me of  the Adriatic Highway,  but it was not a bad road and the traffic wasn’t worse than it was in Italy. What I liked was that it wasn’t very steep. That meant I didn’t have to brake during the descent as I often had to do in Italy, but could make full use of my built up momentum.

Roadside selfie

Roadside selfie

Accidental sunset

Accidental sunset.

Dubrovnik has an interesting history, but these days the people are mainly occupied in stuffing tourists with seafood and selling them expensive cold drinks. There was nothing authentic left of the city life and it felt much like wandering through an open air museum.

In the Assumption  Cathedral I was interested in the museum where several showcases were filled with what seemed different parts of mediëval plate armour. They were the reliquaries which contained the holy remains of the corresponding body parts of saints. Amongst them were an arm and a leg of Saint Blaise, the patron saint of Dubrovnik, and a silver box which stored nothing less than a diaper of the Infant Jesus. Now that September has come, most young families with children have gone home, so I shared the cathedral with the nearly dead gaping at the Child Jesus’ nappy…

The traffic on the Adriatic Highway is at its worst around Dubrovnik, with some hairy parts where the road is particularly narrow with crash barriers on the cliffside.

In the evening I walked back to the campsite from the village where I had bought some groceries. At the side of the road I picked some ripe figs. Because I am tall it was easy to find some good pickings , but the lower reaches were empty. Figs must be picked when ripe because they don’t ripen once picked. A lot of people must have picked half ripe figs, because if they wait too long, someone else might have taken them. It’s a nice example of the Tragedy of the Commons, an interesting phenomenon if you are interested in Behavioural Economics…

My next post will be from Montenegro.

To Split

From San Marino I cycled to Ancona in two days,

Arch of Trajan in Ancona.

Arch of Trajan in Ancona.

At the end of the harbour of Ancona stands the Arch of Trajan and, although ít’s built long ago, it still looks pretty good.

From Ancona I took the overnight ferry to Split in Croatia which left at a quarter past eight in the evening and arrived at seven in the morning. I had left the bicycle wit h most of the luggage on the car deck and just took my sleeping mat and sleeping bag to one of the upper decks where I slept very comfortable.

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The above images (1 and 2, as I mysteriously labeled them) are from the Sulphur Spa, an Art Nouveau building in the centre of Split. Walking along the Riva, Split’s promenade along the Adriatic, the smell is distinctive and reminiscent of that of a broken sewer. While making these pictures another smell was apparent from the adjoining Ribarnica, the fish market, which was built here on purpose as the flies are repelled by the fumes of the Sulphur Spa as are most tourists.

Split selfie

Split selfie

The old town of Split is built in and around the palace of the Roman Emperor Diocletian who wished to retire there. Much to everyone’s surprise he actually did as he said and by doing so became the first emperor in Roman history to abdicate his office. It is suggested that he built his palace on that particular location because of the nearness of the sulphurous wells which are supposed to help against rheumatic diseases of which the emperor might have suffered. This seems likely because he also exempted sufferers from arthritis from paying taxes. Otherwise, Diocletian is known for the killing of several hundred (?) thousands of Christians. After his retirement he grew vegetables in his garden.

From Split I cycled to Makarska which has a long and boring history during which it was built and conquered and destroyed by several different empires and kingdoms. In its present day it is swamped with tourists.

The following day I cycled to Neum, a small corridor which forms Bosnia and Herzeogovina’s  only access to the sea. At the border I waved with my passport and the border guards waved back. The Croats want to build a bridge because they don’t want to be dependent on transport through Bosnia. The Bosniaks want the bridge, for which the Croats don’t actually have the money, to be high enough because they want to develop a seaport, for which they don’t have money themselves.

The  next day it rained, so I stayed another day.